Handwriting is a multifaceted process of coordinating hands, arms, eyes and body posture. While it is undoubtedly important for writing– in fact, K-5 teachers indicate that 24 to 58 percent of classroom time is spent writing on paper — it is also a building block for many other skills. Being able to print letters clearly and with ease impacts children’s self-esteem, physical development, literacy skills, memorization and creative writing. As a parent, you may notice that your child struggles with handwriting. To be sure, 10 to 30 percent of elementary children do. Here are some tips for making handwriting more successful, and also ways that a pediatric physical therapist may help.
What you can do
Help him increase his hand strength and writing endurance by:
- Offering him a tennis ball with a slit in it; hide small objects inside the ball so that he must squeeze the tennis ball in order to retrieve the objects;
- Asking him to crumple a sheet of newspaper in one hand while his arm is raised;
- Suggesting that he use his fingers to “walk” a tennis ball up and down his legs using one hand;
- Hiding objects in silly putty or theraputty for him to find.
Make it fun
A lot of children and adolescents simply grow bored by the mechanical act of writing. You can make it more enjoyable by mixing up how and why your child writes. For instance, encourage her to write letters in pudding, shaving cream or sand. Suggest that she draw and write with her finger in the condensation on the mirror after a shower or with a stick in the dirt. Also, mix up the reasons that she’s writing. Depending on her age, one day she might try circling a certain letter in the newspaper, and the next day she may send a postcard to Grandma.
A significant number of children lack the body strength to support lengthy stretches of writing time. It’s important for your child to gain strength, not only in her hand, but also in her shoulder muscles. Some suggested exercises to do this include:
- People Push: Two children stand facing one another with their palms touching and one leg in front of the other. On the count of three, they begin pushing each other as hard as possible until one person falls over. If there is a clear strength imbalance, encourage the stronger person to “go easy” or only use one hand.
- Wall Push: With hands at shoulder-height, push against a wall as though it is falling down. Hold the position for 5 to 10 seconds, then run around before repeating the exercise.
- Chair Push-Ups: While sitting on a chair, children lift themselves up by pushing down on the chair next to their hips. Encourage the intervals for lifting to increase over time.
How a pediatric physical therapist (or occupational therapist) can help
While it’s tempting to think of physical therapists as an intervention for severe disabilities and injuries, they are actually very helpful for the “small” things as well. This includes handwriting. A physical therapist’s role in this case is to assess the child’s handwriting and recognize any issues that make handwriting difficult. A pediatric physical therapist can evaluate a child for sensory, motor, perceptual and postural deficits. The therapist can suggest modified equipment, such as pencil grips, adjusted tables or differently-shaped writing instruments. Finally, the therapist can practice skill-building activities to improve the child’s handwriting.
Often, when a child experiences difficulty with handwriting, other challenges come to light. A pediatric physical therapist can coordinate efforts with other professionals, including teachers, doctors and a child’s parent.
As technology becomes more pervasive, it may seem that handwriting is growing obsolete. However, this is an erroneous conclusion. People still need the skills to pen information carefully. If you suspect your child’s development is lagging, it may be time to consult a pediatric physical therapist or other professional for intervention.